Reviews

Mario Kart 7

January 11, 2012, Author: Andy Corrigan

You wait months and months for decent 3DS games to come along, then two come along at once. True to form, they both feature Nintendo’s cheeky mascot plumber, wheeled out once again to help with the console’s troublesome opening year.

With Super Mario 3D Land already released, finished and reviewed, I switched my attention to the oddly named Mario Kart 7. Well, it seemed oddly named and out-of-place at first, until I discovered that it was named so because it’s the seventh game in the franchise’s history. Pretty obvious when you think about it.

Is it better or worse on 3DS, though? Is it worth the cash? Can Mario really expect to keep his upper class lady interested in him on a meagre plumber’s salary?

I’m about to answer all those questions (except for the last one), as I examine whether Mario Kart 7 is worthy of a place on the podium.

Let’s settle our differences on the racetrack!
It’s a strange place, the Mario universe. Even after all the childish tit-for-tat, with Bowser constantly kidnapping Mario’s woman and getting his arse burnt in larva for it, it’s heartening that the plumber’s posse and their adversaries can still be civilised with each other, shake hands afterwards, and then play some nice, honest sport together.

Go-karting, then, seems to be a particular favourite with our eclectic group, and has been since Super Mario Kart originally released on the SNES back in 92/93 (depending on where you were based). I imagine that for many it will have been their first exposure to racing games in any capacity, and being someone who knew nothing about real-life motorsport at the time, a large part of my childhood was spent powering Mario or Toad around corners on fictional tracks, long before chancing my arm on something more realistic.

It was a gateway into a genre I’d never really tried before, and I think that this is one of the reasons that the game sits well with so many my age. Thankfully, this brand of pick-up-and-play racing is as strong today as it was back in the early 90’s, and I’m pleased to say that Mario Kart 7 has just about been the most fun I’ve had with the series since it started.

Fun, but not the game changer it should be!

That f*&$ing blue shell!
On pure gameplay terms, this is about as typically Mario Kart as you can get. If you’ve played anything as recent as Mario Kart DS or Mario Kart Wii, you’ll mostly know what you’re letting yourself in for here.

As always, the difficulty spans three engine categories, with 50cc being the easiest, 100cc being moderate and 150cc being the one for those who like to get pushed hard. In each, you’ll choose a Mario-related character (or your Mii, once the feature is unlocked), pick a four-race Grand Prix and try and come at the top of the table by the end of all the races.

In usual fashion, you can collect a number of power-ups around the track to help you temporarily disrupt the competition. You’ll see returning favourites like the Red and Green Shells, Mushrooms that give you a short speed boost, and the Bullet Bill that takes you from the back of the pack and puts you back in the thick of it. Even that accursed Blue Shell… *shakes fist*

To mix it up, there are three new power-ups introduced in this game: the Fire-flower, performing much the same as with the platformer equivalent by allowing you to knock those around you out of their stride if you have a steady aim; a Tanooki tail which gives you an expected spin attack; and the Number 7, which grants you seven of the standard power-ups at once, for you to shoot out (one at a time) and cause carnage on the track.

Each new Mario Kart usually sees a new gimmick and here is no exception, thanks to the inclusion of airborne and underwater sections. If you hit a certain type of jump pad, a glider or parachute will come out of your car allowing you to glide around in the air before landing safely. Less dramatically, when you go underwater, a propeller appears as you floatily race around the ocean/riverbed.

To be honest, neither of these features drastically change-up the gameplay as much as it would first seem, with the game playing pretty much the same in the air and underwater as it does on the ground, but they’re welcome additions nonetheless.

Under da sea!

As you race (and hopefully win), you can collect coins from around the track (a maximum of 10 in any one race), and by doing that and winning the Grand Prix events, you’ll unlock new customisations for your kart, such as new chassis, wheels and gliders/parachutes. Each of these will have different effects or ailments on the important stats of your car, and playing with these combinations and seeing the results is a large part of the fun here. It also means you can tailor a kart to your own play-style and preferences.

Whatever your choices there, as we all know with Mario Kart, anyone at any level can win at any time, and it’s this unpredictability that makes the Mario Kart experience what it is. The gameplay is as strong and smooth as it’s ever been; it’s easy to pick up and the handling is simple and fun, even when it’s kicking your arse in 150ccs.

There are a few new circuits, including some point-to-point races, but many of them are remakes of former glories from different iterations of the franchise across all Nintendo formats, such as new takes on Rainbow Road and Mario Circuit (complete with that classic soundtrack). Some have been slightly modified to make use of the gliding and underwater sections, but it really is a ‘best of the best’ selection here, and I’ve had a much more enjoyable time already than in Mario Kart Wii as a result.

Also, it wouldn’t be a Nintendo game unless they tried to shoehorn in some motion controls; at any time you can switch your view to first-person and drive using the gyroscope in the device. Personally, compared to the smooth motion control of Mario Kart Wii, I found this finicky and tetchy, with the Circle pad offering much more refined control.

I’m pleased to say that the Battle Mode remains intact, featuring the now-standard Balloon and Coin collection battles, which are awesomely entertaining and, especially in Multiplayer (more on that later), really are the icing on the cake. There’s a fair amount of content on this little cartridge, and as overly familiar as it all is at times, it rarely lets you down.

To keep you further occupied you can access the Mario Kart channel, where all your Streetpass and Spotpass interactions are stored, allowing other players’ Miis to start joining in on your single-player races or for you to download ghosts to try and best.

Monkeying around...

The scenic route!
This iteration of Mario Kart looks absolutely stunning on the 3DS’ top screen, with beautiful, vibrant colours being the order of the day. Each racetrack is obviously themed on different elements of the Mario games, and it oozes fan service with every single design choice.

That fan-service often equates to a very busy visual experience, one that doesn’t ever suffer from technical issues or become annoying, but only serves to make your racing more exciting and more enjoyable. It really does help you feel a part of the Super Mario universe.

The 3D effect isn’t the useful feature it is on say, Super Mario 3D Land, however. It’s done well enough that it’s appealing, but it’s completely non-essential, adding absolutely nothing to gameplay. As with a lot of 3DS games, I found myself turning it off.

I like driving in my kart…
Just as with Super Mario 3D Land, the audio in Mario Kart 7 is also a celebration of the character’s history. Each revamped classic circuit still carries all the old audio and classic sound effects it used from its own generation. I dare you hit the Mario Circuit and not grin moronically to yourself as you hear that same backing piece from the SNES days.

If I had just one complaint, it’s that the character’s mid-race chatter, along with the celebration noises for when you’ve successfully hit someone with a power-up, is mildly annoying given its frequency, but even then it provides a simple notification that you may have just successfully hindered someone.

Who the feck just did that? Own up!
Mario Kart 7 features a very basic, but ultimately addictive online component, and it’s really where the most fun is to be had.

From logging in, you can either quickly jump into a very basic matchmaking system or join a friend who’s already got a race with randoms on the go. If they’re already playing at this point, you might have to watch the remainder of a race before you get in yourself, but it’s a fairly painless way of playing with folk you know, although it might seem a bit clunky to those used to more sophisticated online games.

To get around playing with randoms you can create your own communities, allowing you to race only with those you know. You create the community, set the rules, then give your friends the code to join; perfect for a little gaming site like ours and an easy way to keep your friends together. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it… I’ve set one up for TIMJ; please feel free to join if anyone is playing in there. You can find the code here.

Once in and actually racing, it’s business as usual as it plays exactly the same as the offline portion of the game. Races seem smooth and flowing, with very little sign of lag to be seen. If there is any, it’s never intrusive.

There don’t seem to be any team-oriented races like on the Wii; however, the Battle Mode is fully playable online. It’s one of the most likable aspects of multiplayer, with eight people zooming around open maps, trying to pop each other’s triplet of balloons or collect the most coins before the time runs out.

This online component really is the epitome of fun, and took my mind right back to the 90’s when me and my friends would crowd around the SNES. This is where the game truly excels.

Toad. Not to be confused with one of the X-Men.

Pole position?
Okay, here’s the thing. Nintendo haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel here. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was holding it in my hands rather than playing it on TV, I’d be hard-pressed to spot the meaningful differences in core gameplay to that of Mario Kart Wii. I’ll even go as far to extend that sentiment to the gliding and underwater stretches, such is the minor effect they actually have.

That said, by not reinventing the wheel, they’ve given us more of an enjoyable formula with very few actual faults. As an overall package there’s a lot to love and, personally, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a Mario Kart game since its inception on the SNES.

The single-player races are solid fun, the multiplayer modes, both online and in local player are even better, and the only thing you need to consider when eyeing up a purchase is whether or not you want the ability to play Mario Kart wherever and whenever you like.

If that’s something you want, then you won’t find yourself disappointed. For me, in that respect, it’s a worthy purchase for any like-minded 3DS owner.

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